If some American universities get their way, “ze” and “xyr” will replace the gender pronouns “he” and “she” in the English language.

The University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion published a letter on the school’s website urging students and faculty members to discuss gender-neutral pronouns.

“We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems,” Donna Braquet, the director of UT’s Pride Center, wrote.

Braquet encouraged professors to ask students their preferred names and pronouns during the first week of classes.

“We are familiar with the singular pronouns she, her, hers, and he, him, his, but those are not the only singular pronouns. In fact, there are dozens of gender-neutral pronouns,” she said.

Singular gender-neutral pronouns include: ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem and xyr.

While the University of Tennessee quickly retreated and removed the post after politicians criticized and others mocked the advocacy of gender-neutral pronouns, an official at another Tennessee university claimed that the use of gender-specific pronouns placed lives at stake.

A “gender non-conforming” official with Vanderbilt University’s Office of LGBTQI, Liv Parks, said, “The stakes are life or death in some cases.”

Parks added, “If it isn’t life or death, it’s mental health.”

Other universities also advocate for gender-neutral pronouns.

Earlier this summer, Ohio University adopted a policy allowing students to identify their own preferred name and pronoun.

The director of the LGBT Center explained that a Rachel in class might be legally named Richard, although the faculty member may not know that fact.

The push for gender-neutral pronouns appears to be the academy’s effort at supporting students who see themselves as neither male nor female. It’s a way to be welcoming and affirming.

Stripping society of its gender definitions and replacing them with gender-neutral pronouns raises a lot of questions.

How were the silly-sounding, unpronounceable “ze” and “xyr” chosen as replacement pronouns?

That’s unclear.

Who made up these replacement pronouns?

That, too, is unclear.

What evidence is there that the use of gender pronouns places “gender non-conforming” students at risk to death?

That’s unclear.

Why are those who use gender pronouns more likely to do violence than those who use gender-neutral pronouns?

That’s unclear.

Is there a prejudicial assumption by gender non-conforming advocates toward those whose sexual identity as male or female is clear and comfortable? Does this assumption represent a form of self-righteousness?

Well, yes. It expresses itself as “we,” gender non-conformists and our advocates, are better than “you,” gender conformists. After all, “we’re” not violent.

Is the push for gender-neutral pronouns the next step in sanitizing society of the traditional concept of distinction between male and female?


What will happen as the larger society learns about the academy’s push for gender-neutral pronouns?

The general public will find the push mind-boggling, one more example of the academy’s ideological disconnect from society.

Opponents to the liberalization of the English language to cleanse culture of the distinction of male and female will be labeled as narrow-minded, exclusive, reactionary, hateful, right-wing Christians.

Proponents will be unrelenting in the pursuit of their goal, claiming that the change isn’t that big of a deal, that history is on their side, that it’s a civil rights issue.

Are gender-neutral pronouns the next front in America’s culture conflict?


A good society is an inclusive one that accepts religious, racial, economic and ideological diversity. A good society pays men and women equally. A good society welcomes the stranger – even the stranger with a questioning sexual identity or sexual identity that is seen as different.

A good society makes adjustments in its language to be more inclusive. Our society has done that. Fireman becomes firefighter. Postman becomes postal carrier. Policeman becomes police officers. Yet such changes deal with what people do, not who they are.

Will replacing gender-specific pronouns for gender-neutral pronouns really contribute to a good society? Or will it open a Pandora’s box to more sexual confusion and conflict in a society already mired in a debate over human sexuality and marriage?

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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